Award-winning journalist holds lecture on immigration, book signing


Alana Auber / Hilltop Views

Award-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas speaks to students at the event. Vargas is the author of "Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen."

Students, faculty and guests alike gathered to hear Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist and immigration rights activist Jose Antonio Vargas speak about his experience as an undocumented citizen.

Vargas spoke last Thursday in the RCC Gym about the importance of having a different perspective on immigration, as well as his book “Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen,” which tells his story about coming out as an undocumented immigrant from the Philippines.

Vargas wants people to take away from his book “That the issue of immigration will only change one conversation at a time,” he said.

Vargas’s book was the freshman summer reading and was selected to discuss the urgency of immigration and how it affects people, especially students. Alexandra Barron, who has a doctorate in English and is the director of the Freshman Seminar Program, hopes students are having conversations about the issue.

“My hope is that we’ve chosen a book and a theme that people can work with and approach from different angles,” she said, “and have interesting and fruitful conversations…from their own particular perspective.”

While speaking about his story, Vargas addressed the misconceptions about undocumented people. Misconceptions like how undocumented people, including himself, pay taxes, drive without a driver’s license and don’t vote, not because they don’t want to vote, but because they cannot vote with a Bank of America debit card.

Vargas’s interest in immigration does not stem just from his own experience, but also others’ experiences and why no one wants to acknowledge those stories and perspectives. 

“That’s what we do at Define American,” Vargas said, referring to his non-profit, “For us, storytelling is a correction, an intervention and a source of liberation from all the lies that are told about [undocumented people].”

Near the end of the seminar, there was a shift in Vargas’s tone. “I get asked all these questions [about immigration], but the question I never got asked was “How does this feel like?”” Vargas said. “I wrote the book because I was and I am depressed, and I didn’t know how to deal with my depression.” His experience writing the book was cathartic, and he hopes that people can relate to his story.

Two freshmen, Belen Contreras and Lolly Ortiz, were inspired by his seminar. “I’m Latino, and the fact that him being undocumented, my parents went through that, so I could relate to how he feels,” Contreras said.

Ortiz was passionate about the topic as well. “It’s really important that we are aware, advocate and give freedom to these people and let them know that they have a voice, as well.”

Vargas answered questions and held a book signing after the seminar, encouraging students and guests to interact and take photos with him. Laughter and conversations were abundant as people came and went. He listened to each person intensely and never stopped smiling. “Y’all are free; most of you are,” Vargas said, “and I hope you take that freedom very seriously.”